Sources with close contacts inside CERN in Switzerland predicted this weekend that sighting of the first strong signs of a particle vital to support Einstein’s ideas of the universe will be reported on Tuesday.
The scientists warned that there would be no announcement of a full scientific discovery – but even confirmation that something like the long-sought Higgs boson had been spotted would be a major advance. The God particle is believed to have given shape to the universe after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
Oliver Buchmueller, a senior member of one of the two teams seeking the particle in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) this year, said: “I am feeling quite a level of excitement.”
Two separate LHC teams – using the ATLAS and CMS detectors – have smashed protons in 350 trillion collisions this year, hoping to see the Higgs particle in the debris.
Science bloggers with close contacts among the tight-lipped front-line research groups, known as ATLAS and – Buchmueller’s – CMS, said their understanding was that both had found signals that look very much like the Higgs particle.
“The anticipation among physics enthusiasts is almost palpable,” said theoretician Sascha Vongehr on his blog, www.science20.com. The observation of a “light Higgs” would be announced at a December 13 CERN seminar, he said.
Rolf Heuer, CERN’s director general, revealing the seminar would be given updates on the Higgs search by the heads of the ATLAS and the CMS groups who work independently and in secret from each other, said there would be no discovery announcement.
For that, there would have to be a high degree of certainty – measured at 5 sigma, in scientific terms, or a 0.00003 per cent chance of error- by both.
Informed bloggers are saying it is hovering at about 2.5 sigma for CMS and 3.5 for ATLAS – enough to qualify the sightings as “an observation” – both would correspond to a probability above 95 per cent that the observations are accurate.
But, said Oliver Buchmueller, without confirming that reading for his own team, if the ATLAS group had found signals similar to those seen in CMS, “then we’re moving very close to a conclusion in the first few months of next year”.
The Higgs particle is essentially a missing piece of the “Standard Model” of physics jigsaw, which explains how the universe is glued together.
So far, it’s the only elementary particle predicted by this model that scientists have not been able to create with atom smashers.
The director general of CERN, Rolf Heuer, said recently that he doesn’t think confirmation of the particle’s existence will be made until around October 2012.
But Professor John Ellis, a former head of theoretical physics at CERN, told the BBC that he expects to see the “first glimpse” of the God particle this week.
Prof. John Ellis said: “There seem to be some hints emerging there… and that’s what we’re going to learn on Tuesday.”
The veracity of the results has been ensured by two separate teams, each comprising of hundreds of researchers, searching using different experiments.
One team, using scientists from 169 universities, has been working on the ATLAS detector, which at 148 feet long and 82 feet high, is the biggest ever constructed.
The other is using the CMS – or Compact Muon Solenoid – a 13,000-ton detector that sits 330 feet underground.
There are some scientists, however, who have poured cold water on the news, with Nobel Prize winner Martinus Veltman from the Universities of Michigan and Utrecht telling the Guardian that “there is no Higgs”.